The best luxury small cars are affordable and yet offer the kind of quality, comfort and equipment that used to only be found on large executive cars.
It’s difficult to imagine a time before the market for small, luxurious cars was as popular as it is now but the formula has been around for longer than you might realise. There have been high-specification versions of regular superminis for years – you could buy luxurious Riley-badged Minis and the Ford Fiesta Ghia in the sixties and seventies.
BMW 1 Series M Sport
It’s hard to imagine a time when the 3 Series was the smallest BMW you could buy, such has been the success of the BMW 1 Series since the first version went on sale in 2004. Its popularity stems from the fact that it offers every quality that BMWs are renowned for, but in a compact and cost-effective form.
The 1 Series has always been regarded as a true driver’s car, and the switch from rear- to front-wheel drive shouldn’t change that for most customers – its chassis has been optimised to ensure it drives as well as a BMW should. Even the least expensive BMW 116i is a fun car to drive, but the M135i at the top of the range offers serious performance.
Audi A3 hatchback
Audi had a considerable head start on its rivals when it came to introducing a more compact luxury car. Its close relationship with Volkswagen enabled it to use the Volkswagen Golf’s reliable and efficient mechanical package to underpin the A3 – a recipe that became an immediate success. To this day, the A3 combines the proven engines and chassis of the Golf with arresting good looks and an interior that exudes quality.
Mercedes A-Class hatchback
The latest version of the Mercedes A-Class does everything better than its highly successful predecessor and provides stronger competition than ever to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. The focus is on luxury and comfort rather than sporty handling, and while the latest A-Class is much better to drive than its predecessor, it’s inside where it races ahead of rivals. The dashboard in particular has a contemporary designer feel and is jam-packed with tech such as digital dials and standard twin seven-inch display screens (which can be bumped up to 10.25 inches at extra cost for a truly immersive infotainment experience).
Build quality is excellent, too, using suitably premium-feeling materials. Rear seat space is less generous than some, but there’s a decent boot to make up for it. While Audi and BMW offer more entertaining drives, the A-Class unashamedly puts relaxation to the fore. It’s a superb motorway cruiser, and refined, comfortable and easy to use everywhere else. The engine line-up is efficient, too, with almost 62mpg possible from the A180d diesel.
MINI Clubman estate
When the iconic MINI name was reinvented by BMW at the beginning of the century, everybody knew that the resulting product would be a big hit. Nobody could have guessed, though, that it would spawn an entire range – every car in which has its own appeal that buyers can’t seem to get enough of.
The MINI Clubman itself offers the same irresistible blend of driver entertainment, charm and style as the standard hatchback, with endless customisation options. Entry-level versions can be more affordable than many people think, and there are so many engine and trim choices available that there really is a MINI for every taste and budget.
These are few of the best small luxury cars.